Blackhawks Playoff Preview: St. Louis Takes Another Swing At Stopping Hawks

Sidney Brown provides dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom throughout the hockey season.

Across the sports landscape there are great rivalries that were born in the postseason and excel there, while some others are typically a regular season affair.

In the case of the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues, this ongoing series — with as many stories to it as rest stops along I-55 — fans get the best of both worlds and for the second time in three years — and eighth time since 1983 — the Hawks and Blues will meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

History is written all over the ice between these two teams, its stitched into the respective sweaters that throughout the years covered the likes of Brett Hull, David Backes, Curtis Joseph and Al McKinnis in the STL, while the Men in Red established the legendary careers Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Tony Amonte, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to name a few.

Intensity and strong physical play is the name of the game when it comes to these rivals and no example is greater than Game 2 in St. Louis in the 2014 Playoffs when Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook nailed Blues Captain David Backes along the boards making contact with his head knocking out Backes for two games of the series. For Seabrook, the hit resulted in a three game suspension but made it back in time for Chicago to eliminate the Blues in six games.

Coming into this year’s series, the Blues finished with 100 standings for three consecutive years but failed to exit out of the opening round. For the Hawks, can they succeed in their second attempt to repeat as champs despite a ho hum regular season? The Hawks finished the year in third place in the Central Division with a 46-27-9 record while the Blues bested them with a 49-24-9 record good for second place in the division.

2015-16 Regular Season Results (Hawks vs. Blues)

November 4, 2015: Blues beat Hawks 6-5 in OT
November 14, 2015: Hawks beat Blues 4-2
January 24th: Hawks beat Blues 2-0
March 9th: Blues beat Hawks 3-2 in Shootout
April 7th: Blues beat Hawks 2-1 I OT

Hawks/Blues In Playoffs Since 1982-83

Year      Round                 Winner           Result
2014      First                 Chicago          4-2
2002      First                 St. Louis        4-1
1993      Division Semi Final   St. Louis        4-0
1992      Division Semi Final   Chicago          4-0
1990      Norris Final          Chicago          4-3
1989      Norris Final          Chicago          4-2
1988      Division Semi Final   St. Louis        4-1
1983      Division Semi Final   Chicago          3-1

In breaking down the positions, let’s see who has the advantage.

Forwards

For Chicago, there’s nothing else to be said when your team are led by veterans Jonathan Toews , Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa.  Patrick Kane is having a career year with 106 total points and is assisted by rookie Artemi Panarin (30G,47A) and Artem Anisimov (20G,22A).  The 2nd line led the NHL with 41 goals, the most by any line during the regular season.  The 1st line led by Captain Jonathan Toews (28G, 35A) will receive veteran help from Marian Hossa (13G,20A) and newcomer and 2010 Cup champ Andrew Ladd (8G,4A with Hawks).  On the flipside, St. Louis is led by Vladimir Tarasenko (40G,34A) and is teamed up with Jori Lehtera (9G,25A) and Jaden Schwartz (8G,14A) forming the “STL” line.  The 2nd line features ex Hawk and 2010 Cup Champ Troy Brouwer (18G,21A), Paul Statsny (10G,39A) and Robby Fabbri (18G,19A).  Let’s not also forget Hawk killers Captain David Backes (21G,24A) and Alex Steen (17G,35A).

Defenseman

The area where the Hawks may struggle, even with Duncan Keith’s suspension for Game One, is team defense.  With veterans Brent Seabrook, Michal Rozsival and Niklas Hjalmarsson leading the way, it will take a complete team effort to keep the Blues at bay and assist Corey Crawford.  Who will help out the veteran defensive core for Chicago?  Trevor van Riemsdyk, Erik Gutsafsson and Viktor Svedberg will be called upon to play solid along the blue line.

Starting Defensive Pairings for Chicago in Game One Without Duncan Keith

Pair 1: Van Riemsdyk – Hjalmarsson
Pair 2: Svedberg – Seabrook
Pair 3: Gustafsson – Roszival

St. Louis features a deep core of D Men headed to top pair Alex Petrangelo (7G,30A) and Jay Bouwneester (3G,16A).  The 2nd pairing brings in hits along with occasional scoring with Carl Gunnarsson (3G,6A) and Kevin Shattenkirk (14G,30A).  Injuries have effected this group all season and rookies were asked to step in and Colton Parayko (9G,24A) took the challenge head on.  The Blues are known for strong defense and without much offense are expected to grind down the Hawks physically taking away their space on the ice.

Special Teams

Chicago

Power Play Percentage: 22.6 (2nd IN NHL)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 80.3 (22nd in NHL)

Power Play Goals: Kane (17), Panarin (8)
Power Play Assists: Kane (20), Seabrook (19)

St. Louis

Power Play Percentage: 21.5 (6th in NHL)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 85. (2nd in NHL)

Power Play Goals: Tarasenko (12), Backes (8)
Power Play Assists: Shattenkirk (20), Steen (19)

Goaltending

Before the injury on March 14th, Corey Crawford was having a career year for Chicago and at times was the team’s MVP. Crawford still finished the year strong with a 35-18-5 record, 2.37 goals against average, .924 save percentage and 7 shutouts.  The question heading towards this year’s playoffs is how long will it take for Crawford to be in top playoff form?  Unlike a year ago, Corey shouldn’t be looking over his shoulder at Scott Darling.  The magnitude of the playoffs will be more than enough to have Crawford focused at the task at hand.

Corey Crawford Career Playoff Numbers

Record: 45-29
Goals Against Average: 2.23
Save Percentage: .921
Shutouts: 5

It’s been a game of hot potato in net because of injuries for the Blues with Jake Allen and Brian Elliot.  Allen (26-15-3; 2.35 GAA; .930 SV% and 4 SO) was the top net minder until an injury at mid season which brought on Elliot (23-8-6; 2.07 GAA; .930 SV%) and his stellar play helped St. Louis clinch home ice advantage for the opening round.  The Blues will start with Elliot in Game One, but should Brian struggle at any point in this series, Allen will be more than ready to take his place.

Intangibles

This series will come down to the Blues power play versus the Hawks penalty kill.  Chicago must play disciplined hockey and stay out of the penalty box.  Team defense will also be key as Chicago lacks depth outside of their top three D Men while St. Louis can bring the pain along with surprisingly occasional scoring with all six of their D Men.  Unsung player for the Hawks in this series against the Blues: Teuvo Teravainen (13G,22A) – Must provide scoring and offensive pressure against the Blues top two lines.  Unsung hero for the Blues: Kevin Shattenkirk.

Will the Hawks take their first step in repeating as champs? or will the Blues finally get the monkey off their back in getting out of the first round?  This year’s confrontation shouldn’t be any different from year’s past.

MY PREDICTION: Hawks In Six
Hawks Round 1 Schedule*

Tonight at St. Louis Blues — 8:30 pm^
Friday at St. Louis — 7 pm^
Sunday vs St. Louis — 2 pm#

April 19 vs. St. Louis — 8:30 pm^
April 21 at St. Louis — TBD (if necessary)
April 23 vs St. Louis — TBD (if necessary) 

April 25 at St. Louis — TBD (if necessary)

*All times central

^Broadcast on CSN-Chicago & NBCSN 

#Broadcast on NBC

Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio; Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and Sidney Brown @sidkid80

 

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